Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies



Clostridium difficile infection

Clostridium difficile is a type of bacteria that can infect your bowel and cause diarrhoea. Its name is usually shortened to C. difficile or sometimes, C. diff.

C. difficile infection most commonly affects people who’ve had a course of antibiotics in the recent past and are in hospital or long-term care homes. However, it can spread to others.

Further antibiotics are usually successful in treating C. difficile infection, although sometimes it takes several courses to get rid of the infection completely.


  • About Clostridium difficile infection About Clostridium difficile infection

    C. difficile bacteria are common in the environment, for instance in soil and water. Most young children and about three in 100 adults have C. difficile in their bowel without realising it. If you’re healthy, this doesn’t usually cause any problems because the growth of C. difficile is controlled by other types of bacteria in your body.

    However, some antibiotics destroy the bacteria that usually prevent C. difficile from multiplying. If this happens, the number of C. difficile in your bowel can increase and cause symptoms of the infection.

  • Symptoms Symptoms of clostridium difficile infection

    Symptoms of C. difficile infection may include:

    • diarrhoea, which may be watery
    • abdominal (tummy) pain
    • a high temperature
    • blood in your faeces (stool)
    • loss of appetite
    • feeling sick

    These symptoms may be caused by problems other than C. difficile infection. If you have any of these symptoms and have recently been treated with antibiotics (especially if you’re over 65), contact your GP. If you can, try not to visit your doctor’s surgery or hospital because you could easily pass the infection on to others.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of clostridium difficile infection

    Because a number of different conditions can cause similar symptoms to those of C. difficile infection, it may be difficult for your doctor to diagnose. They may ask you for a sample of your faeces (stool). This will be sent to a laboratory for testing.

  • Treatment Treatment of clostridium difficile infection

    If you have a mild C. difficile infection, the only treatment you may need is to stop taking antibiotics. You’ll also need to make sure you drink enough fluids to replace those that you’ll have lost as a result of having diarrhoea.

    Don’t take any over-the-counter anti-diarrhoea medicines if you have diarrhoea caused by C. difficile. This is because they can slow down your diarrhoea and increase the time your colon (large bowel) is exposed to the toxins (poisons). This can make your colon more inflamed and increase the risk of damage.

    If you become severely dehydrated, you may need to have fluids given to you through a drip in your arm.

    If you have a more serious infection, your doctor may prescribe a different antibiotic to the one you’ve been taking. The antibiotics usually prescribed for C. difficile infection are called metronidazole and vancomycin. Another drug, fidaxomicin, is occasionally prescribed instead of vancomycin. You’ll need to take the antibiotics for at least 10 days. Make sure you finish your course of treatment, even if your symptoms clear up.

    If you have recurring disease that is not responding to these drugs, your doctor may offer you a treatment called faecal microbiota transplant. This is increasingly being used in the UK for this kind of problem. In this treatment, a plastic tube will be passed through your nose and down the gullet, through the stomach and into your upper small bowel. Then, an extract of the faeces from a healthy human donor will be passed down the tube over the course of about 20 minutes. The donor will have been screened for infectious diseases.

    You’ll usually be able to go back to work or school when you’ve been free from diarrhoea for 48 hours.

    Even if the treatment gets rid of your infection, there’s a possibility that it can come back. This happens to about one out of five people who develop C. difficile infection. If your symptoms return, let your doctor know as soon as possible. You may need another course of treatment.

  • Prompt access to quality care

    From treatment through to aftercare, with our health insurance we aim to get you the help you need, as quickly as possible. Find out more today.

  • Causes Causes of clostridium difficile infection

    C. difficile infection is usually caused by taking antibiotics for another illness. You’re more at risk of getting C. difficile infection if you’re taking broad spectrum antibiotics. These are antibiotics that are used against a variety of bacteria. However, they can also destroy the natural bacteria in your bowel, leading to the overgrowth of C. difficile.

    C. difficile infection can spread easily from person to person via touching contaminated surfaces. For example, healthcare workers and those in hospital can spread the bacteria by touching a contaminated surface (such as furniture, toilets and taps). The bacteria can live for a long time on these surfaces.

    Disease due to C. difficile becomes more likely as you get older. And you may be more likely to get C. difficile infection if you have a condition that weakens your immune system. For example, you may be receiving treatment for cancer or have HIV/AIDS.

  • Complications Complications of clostridium difficile infection

    If you have a severe infection with C. difficile then you may be at risk of severe dehydration. This can lead to serious problems such as low blood pressure and kidney failure.

    Very rarely, a C. difficile infection can lead to your bowel perforating and blood poisoning, which can be fatal.

  • Prevention Prevention of clostridium difficile infection

    It’s very important to stop the spread of C. difficile. Especially if you’re infected with it, or you’ve been in contact with someone who has it. You can do this by making sure you regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water. This is especially important after going to the toilet and before preparing or eating food.

    You should also regularly clean your kitchen and bathroom using disinfectant or household detergents containing chlorine. See our FAQ below on caring for someone with C. difficile infection at home for more information.

    If you’re in hospital and have C. difficile infection, you’ll usually be moved into a single room or to an area where other people also have the infection. The hospital staff will follow strict hygiene rules to prevent spreading the C. difficile infection. Any visitors you have should wash their hands with soap and warm water before and after they visit you. Alcohol gels aren’t very effective at killing C. difficile, so won’t prevent the infection.

  • FAQ: Types of Clostridium difficile Are there different types of C. difficile?

    Yes, there are different types of C. difficile bacteria. Some types can cause more serious symptoms than others.

    One type is called type 027 and has been identified as the cause of the most serious outbreaks of C. difficile infection. It’s more severe because it produces more of the toxins (poisons) that attack the cells in your bowel. It’s also able to spread very easily from person to person.

  • FAQ: Infection if not in hospital Can I get C. difficile even if I’m not in hospital?

    It’s much more common to become infected with C. difficile in a hospital or similar environment, such as a nursing home. However, you can still get it simply by being out and about within your community.

    C. difficile can be spread through the diarrhoea of infected people and passed to others through hand-to-hand contact. It can also spread through contact with contaminated objects such as bedpans, toilets or furniture surfaces.

    The spread of C. difficile infection is more likely to occur in hospitals, where people are unwell. Or in places such as nursing homes where there are many people in close contact with one another. This means that if one person develops C. difficile infection, it can spread quickly to other vulnerable people.

    Although it’s less likely, it’s still possible to get C. difficile infection if you’re not in hospital. If this happens, you’ll need to stay off work or school until you haven’t had diarrhoea for at least 48 hours.

    It’s also important to take steps to stop the infection spreading to others. You can do this by making sure you regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water. This is especially important to do after going to the toilet, and before preparing or eating food. See our FAQ below on caring for someone with C. difficile infection at home for more information.

  • FAQ: Hospital stay Must I stay in hospital with C. difficile infection?

    Yes, if you’re already in hospital, you’ll need to stay there for treatment until 24 to 48 hours after your diarrhoea has stopped. This is because you could pass the C. difficile infection on to someone else.

    When you’re in hospital, it’s best that you stay in a separate room so that the infection doesn’t spread to other people. However, this isn’t always possible, so you may stay in a special area with other people who also have C. difficile infections. If you have any visitors, they’ll need to wash their hands with soap and water before they come into, and before they leave the ward.

  • FAQ: Caring for someone with C. difficile infection How do I care for someone with C. difficile at home?

    It’s important to follow good hygiene measures in order to reduce the risk of C. difficile spreading to you or other members of your family. One of the main ways the bacteria are transferred is via hands and through touching surfaces or items they’ve been in contact with. Proper handwashing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent infection spreading.

    Good hygiene measures include the following.

    • All family members should wash their hands regularly using soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet and before preparing and eating food. Be especially sure to wash your hands after contact with the infected person.
    • Regularly clean with disinfectant all surfaces that the infected person has come into contact with, including the bathroom. Focus particularly on cleaning toilet seats, showers, baths, sinks, taps and handles using disinfectant.
    • Don’t share towels, facecloths or other personal hygiene items with the infected person.
    • Throw away any cleaning cloths you’ve used to clean surfaces, or wash them at 60°C or above.
    • Keep the sheets, pillows and clothes of the infected person separate from the rest of the family laundry and wash them at 60°C or above. Wash your hands after handling any soiled items.
    • Wear disposable gloves if you have to come into contact with the faeces (stool) of the infected person. And wash your hands after taking your gloves off.
  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information

    Public Health England provides detailed technical information about the management of Clostridium difficile infections.

    You can find out more about preventing infection in the home from the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene.


    • Clostridium difficile: associated disease. BMJ Best practice., last updated 3 August 2016
    • Clostridium difficile colitis. Medscape., updated 2 November 2016
    • Pseudomembranous colitis. PatientPlus., last checked 23 March 2016
    • Clostridium difficile-induced diarrhea (pseudomembranous colitis). The MSD Manuals., last full review/revision January 2016
    • Diarrhoea – antibiotic associated. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised June 2013
    • Faecal microbiota transplant for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2014.
    • Map of Medicine. Clostridium difficile. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2014 (Issue 2)
    • Updated guidance on the management and treatment of Clostridium difficile infection. Public Health England, 2013.
    • Clostridium difficile infection information for patients. CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., accessed 8 March 2017
    • Clostridium difficile: infection and infection prevention through hygiene in the home. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene., last updated 2015
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Dr Kristina Routh, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, March 2017
    Expert reviewer, Professor Robert Read, Professor of Infectious Diseases, University Hospital Southampton
    Next review due March 2020

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
  • Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.